5. Unless it can be proven to me—to me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction—that, in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, life is a joke) I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate art.

In this sentence, located at the end of Chapter 31, Part Two, Humbert clearly notes the tragedy of Lolita’s destroyed childhood. Until now, Humbert has been selfishly unconcerned with anything but keeping Lolita. He has also been blind to her as a person. Though he has provided the reader with many clues to her personality, he himself can see her as anything other than the object of his desire. Initially, he had some reservations about taking away Lolita’s “purity.” However, he overcomes these reservations, as he does in all instances where morality conflicts with his desires. However, Humbert does not clarify whether the “maniac” in the quote is himself or Quilty, suggesting the existence of a deeper layer of self-doubt and self-loathing. Though he does frequently allude to the fact that he was an inadequate and failed father, Humbert nonetheless points to Quilty as the real destroyer of Lolita’s innocence. Even in the face of self-awareness, Humbert does not take full responsibility for his actions.

Nabokov also uses this sentence to make his point that art can triumph over the petty and lurid events of life. Humbert realizes that only art can alleviate his misery, and he tries to assuage his pain by writing this very story. In this way, Humbert can tell his tale and defend himself, as well as immortalize his Lolita in a work of art. Art becomes therapeutic for Humbert in a way that his many trips to the sanitariums never managed to be. Humbert also alludes to his artistic intentions when he defends his murder of Quilty, asserting that one must choose Humbert over Quilty so that he can tell the story and capture Lolita forever as a nymphet. Ironically, even the casual reader knows that while Quilty is recognized in the novel as a playwright and even as a “genius,” he lacks the depth of feeling to truly create a work of art and love. Quilty’s feelings for Lolita are far more sexual than emotional, and Humbert makes sure to portray his own feelings as more emotional than sexual.